A nostalgic look at a Malibu institution.
By Kim Devore / Staff Writer
When I first started working at The Malibu Times in 1996, the holidays were drawing near. One of my first assignments was the classic “How to cure a hangover” story. As I began to glean tips from fellow locals, a pattern emerged: “I go to the Dume Room,” they’d say with a chuckle. “They’ll fix you right up.”
Having never ventured much past Cross Creek in those days, I set off on my first trip to this mythical Shangri-La in the early morning quiet of Jan. 1, 1997. To my total amazement, the joint was actually open at 10 a.m.
There were no swanky leather booths or sleek fixtures or fancy fish tanks as I imagined. Instead, I descended into a netherworld as dark and musty as Dracula’s cave. Rather than Renfield, I encountered two elderly blue haired ladies downing martinis and smoking 100-millimeter menthol cigarettes at the well-worn wooden bar. A couple of loud, tough guys sporting gold teeth, major tattoos and Confederate flag T-shirts were engaged in billiards while a scratchy Lynyrd Skynyrd provided the soundtrack from an aging jukebox.
I was alarmed, but the bartender and his crew refused to let me leave, insisted on pouring me a hefty tumbler of two buck chuck, became unbearably chatty and proceeded to make themselves new best friends.
After overcoming my early fears, I came to realize that these people couldn’t have been more real. As odd and eclectic and straight-out-of-Central Casting as this ensemble might have seemed, there was a true sense of camaraderie, and community spirit and caring.
This was the kind of place you could go to for a jump if you had a dead battery or a free phone call if you have a flat. Not only would they let you use their line, they’d probably send one of the “boys” to give you a hand.
Like Malibu, the Dume Room has become a way of life-not so much a bar as a state of mind. It’s one of the last remaining symbols of old Malibu.
“I know there are bigger issues than saving a bar,” said longtime Dumie Jeff Kantor who is organizing a protest near the establishment on Friday. “But it’s more than that. It’s the nail in the coffin for old Malibu.”
Kantor’s wife, Jennifer, an employee of The Malibu Times, took the news equally hard.
“I feel like Malibu’s history is being wiped clean,” she said. “We are just going to be left with all these high-end places.”
The Kantors will miss the homey atmosphere and a crowd as diverse as Malibu itself with everyone from riders and ropers to rock stars and rednecks.
“We have construction workers, World War II vets, lifeguards, business people,” Dume Room owner Mario Vitale said. “This is the most diverse bar I know.”
Long-timer Billy Wilson agrees.
“It’s been here 34 years,” he said. “That means people want it. We want these businesses. We need these businesses. We support these businesses.”
Wilson and others are pained by what they see as corporations squeezing out the little guy.
“There will be five Starbucks in Malibu. Did you know that?” Wilson asked. “We don’t want another $400 T-shirt shop or a Prada.”
They conjured up a long list of old ghosts and goblins.
“Look at PierView or Granita or Windsail or Blockbuster,” they said. “Those were big businesses. Now they’re out. They’re just sitting there. How is the little guy supposed to survive?”
Wilson dismisses the idea that posh shoe stores will become a big draw.
“People from the Valley aren’t going to come here to shop. They want to see Malibu,” he said. “People come here for a reason. People live here for a reason. We have to take a stand.”
The outpouring of affection over the Dume Room is more than sadness over a local hang being forced out of business. It’s genuine dismay that the last remnants of a real local community are being replaced by something cosmopolitan and glossy.
“Once these places are gone, they’re gone,” Wilson said. “You can’t get them back.”
Yes, it is just a bar, but it is so much more-it is a precious piece of Malibu history about to vanish forever.